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Murray growing in confidence and fitness ahead of Australian Open

A week is clearly a long time in tennis, at least if you are Andy Murray, whose confidence is beginning to grow nicely as he heads into the Australian Open.

Andy Murray reacts to losing a point against Lleyton Hewitt at the Kooyong Classic. Picture: David Gray/Reuters
Andy Murray reacts to losing a point against Lleyton Hewitt at the Kooyong Classic. Picture: David Gray/Reuters

Four months after undergoing back surgery, Murray said last week that it was "unrealistic" to expect him to win the first grand slam title of the year but, with a perfect sense of timing, the Wimbledon champion believes he is finding his form.

"Playing in 40° heat over five sets is a massive test when I have really only played one match," he said yesterday, after an exhibition match against Australia's Lleyton Hewitt. "[But] I have practised well; I have put in the work and the training on the practice court. Once you get on the match court, that's a different story and we will see how I am after the first or second match. If I get myself into the tournament, stranger things [than him winning the title] have happened."

It was in Doha just last week that Murray felt unsure about his game and body, his back stiffening up in the cool conditions after a surprise three-set defeat by Florian Mayer of Germany. His exhibition with Hewitt yesterday ended in a 7-6, 7-6 defeat but there was enough about Murray's performance to suggest he should be fine come next week.

That feeling was backed up by a kind early draw that pits Murray against Go Soeda of Japan, world ranked No.112, before taking on a qualifier in round two. Spain's ­Feliciano Lopez could be waiting in round three and John Isner in the last 16 but his first true test is unlikely to come until the quarter-final, when he is seeded to meet either Roger Federer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Twelve months ago here, Federer edged out Tsonga in five sets in the last eight, before bowing to Murray over the distance in the semi-finals.

When he decided to have surgery, Murray said he was fed up with being in pain and revealed that it had been preventing him from using his full array of strokes. Now, all looks rosier.

"My back feels way, way better than it did before the surgery," he said. "That is what is very pleasing for me just now. The rest of the body hurts a little bit - it is a little bit frustrating because the back feels better but just because you haven't played matches for four months, a couple of other things hurt, other things stiffen up - but my back so far, has felt very good.

"It feels much better than it did in Doha. I stiffened up a bit after the first couple of sets there - it was cold - but the last few days in practice my back has felt much better than even it did a couple of weeks ago. My level will need to rise but in practice I have played well this week. I have played some good sets against Tsonga, Hewitt, Berdych, Davydenko. I am not as far away as I maybe thought I was a couple of weeks ago."

Murray would never admit that making the last four would be a success - now that he has won two grand slam titles, he wants more - but with world No.1 Rafa Nadal in his half, reaching a match-up with the Spaniard would be some effort.

There is no guarantee that Nadal will make it, having received one of the toughest draws he could have feared, beginning with a clash against Bernard Tomic. The Australian is a maverick of a player whose career has been dominated by off-court antics and a tempestuous relationship with his father.

Appearances can be deceptive but Tomic appears to be getting himself together and yesterday he reached the final of the Sydney International. Providing Nadal gets through, Gael Monfils and Juan Martin Del Potro could be blocking his route to the semi-finals.

Murray, meanwhile, will not take Soeda lightly, even if he will appreciate the time to play himself into top form. "I have never played him before," Murray said. "He is a solid player who doesn't make too many errors and has a good backhand so I'll need to be on it."

Should Murray make it to the final here for a fourth time, the chances are that his old friend and foe, Novak Djokovic, will be waiting for him. The Serb, who arrived by tram to take part in the draw yesterday, was given a dream draw that he is unlikely to pass up. Boris Becker, the latest addition to his coaching team, must think someone is smiling down on him.

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